Tag Archives: Lewis Hine

Another old photo: Hine

Just to say: nothing wrong here. Ended up watching a lot of the hearings. Felt a range of things: wrung out with the intensity; super proud of the House Managers; and disgusted with the GOP.

Before the week is out, I’ll post some writing from one of the days. It seems important to remember.

But for now, I want to share Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant riff on the photograph below. Tomorrow, I’ll post an old photo from my family and my response to it.

“For a long time I imagined that she [her grandmother] was the woman in Lewis Hine’s 1905 photograph “Young Russian Jewess at Ellis Island.” For a photographer known for his social documentary work, it’s a strange image, with its brooding, intense face and its indistinct, soft-focus background. Ellis Island, which in most photographs appears overrun by people, is empty and still here. The only indication of place is the blurry bars of the fences walkways through which lines of people were processed in the Great Hall. This image of such a private and solitary moment in the packed bustle of Ellis Island is a document of an anomaly in the place and in the work of Hine. It’s not about social conditions. It’s about the soul. A woman with a scarf or shawl pushed back, just far enough to show her dark hair, parted in the middle and not recently washed, looks at something past the camera, neither intimidated nor engaged by it. Only her cloth coat with its asymmetrical closure places her as being from the far eastern fringes of Europe. Up close she is nearly beautiful, young and somehow tender, but from further away or with a smaller or darker reproduction, you can see the skull in the set face of the emigrant, as though through hunger, exhaustion, fear, she is close to other borders than national ones. Above her shadowed eye sockets, her forehead gleams as white as the sky behind her. It’s as though we can see through it to the same distant pallor that is the sky or as though both are only absences on the photographic paper.”

From A Field Guide to Getting Lost